Home and Vegas Baby!

Ciao tutti!

Ha ha!  Well, as you can tell from the title, I arrived home and was almost immediately whisked to Las Vegas.  I told my family all about my trip to Siena, showed them my pictures and souvenirs, and got to work on the capstone project.  I did wear the bay leaf wreath when I got off the plane and my family thought it was really cool.  Less than a week after getting home, my grandparents, brother, and I drove to Vegas for a weekend getaway.  They said it was to celebrate my graduation and my brother’s acceptance into the Navy.

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We stayed at the Luxor and saw the shows for Blue Man Group and Jabbawockeez.  It was a blast!  During the whole weekend, my grandparents asked me all about Siena.  My brother has decided he wants to be stationed somewhere in Europe.  I really do miss Italy but I miss the traveling more than anything.  I’m applying for jobs as a sign language interpreter for travel agencies now.  Hopefully I get one, fingers crossed.

We ate at an Italian restaraunt one night.  I ordered something I had had in Siena and was disappointed.  I guess when you’ve had the real thing in the country it came from, everything else falls short.  It’s funny, but I think I’m feeling just a bit homesick for Siena.  I really could have stayed longer.  But, like I said, I’ll work for travel agencies and get to see it all again someday.  Vedrò ancora Siena.

Buona fortuna con le tue avventure!  Ciao!

Homesick? As if!

Well, it’s that time.  Classes are finished and I’m all packed.  Italy has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned so much.  To be honest though, I wouldn’t mind staying longer.  I could easily stay another month before feeling any twinge of homesickness.

This experience has been great and I’m glad I was able to come to Siena.  I live out in the middle of nowhere at home so I’m really going to miss walking everywhere.  It feels good to stretch my legs and not have to drive forty-five minutes to get to the store.  Truth-be-told, I hate staying in one place for long periods of time (people tell me I have a restless and wandering soul) but I would have liked to stay a little longer.

I have traveled outside the country before, so I don’t expect a huge reaction from my family.  For them, life just goes on.  I’ll tell my story but I know it won’t be nearly as life altering for them as it has been for me.  After all, if someone doesn’t experience something for themselves, then there’s only so much excitement they can generate for you.  However, I’ve got lots of pictures and a bag of souvenirs.  Everytime I look at them I’m sure I’ll feel excited about my trip all over again.

I’ve got a day full of flying ahead…hope i’m not put next to someone who snores…

Finals, Food Poisoning and…Fake ID?!

My final week in Siena was both relaxed and hectic.  It was relaxed because we didn’t go anywhere outside the city which meant plenty of exploring.  However, the week was hectic because we had finals, I got food poisoning, and there were still places in the city I hadn’t been to.

The finals were all fairly easy compaired to some of the tests at WOU and the schools the others were from but we still put our best into them.  I’m bragging here so bare with me…I finished with two B’s and an A…go me.  We had to write two papers for Deaf Culture and History, sign a prewritten story in front of a camera for LIS, and take a written test for Italian.  All-in-all, fairly standard stuff.  I had only one problem through it all, I got food poisoning that morning.

When someone says, “That chinese take-out place near the Campo has the best chinese food,”  they don’t mean it’s the best they’ve ever had.  They mean it’s all there is in the city.  I’m warning everyone right now, DO NOT EAT CHINESE FOOD IN ITALY!  Or, at least not in Siena.  I’m sorry but that was the worst tasting food I’ve ever had.  I threw all but what had made it into my mouth in the trash.  And what I did swallow made me very sick.  I still went to the final but it was Hell.  Oh well, life goes on, right?

With classes all finished, I had a couple days to see a few more areas of interest around Siena.  One of my classmates, Kristie, came with me so it was more fun.  The first place we went to was the clock tower in the Campo (the Torre del Mangia).  I had been walking by it every morning on my way to school but never had a chance to go in.  Kristie and I got up early one morning and climbed to the top.

Torre del Mangia   Torre del Mangia

You can see how small people are in the photo standing at the bottom.  It was definitely a climb.  I was fine with it but Kristie’s legs were visibly shaking when we came down.  I don’t have pictures on the inside because I recorded the whole climb but it was over 400 steps to the top.  Some doorways and other areas were so tight and short, I had to contort to get through.  I’m over six feet tall so some areas in the tower were a circus.  Kristie is about a foot shorter than me and she had to duck through some areas.  I just crawled.

DSCF1649  While we were at the top, the bells started ringing all across the city.  The tower goes first then all the churches follow in unison.  This happens twice a day at noon and again at 7pm.  I believe they ring at 7pm for evening mass but I’m not sure.  Anyways, we weren’t aware of the time when we were standing right next to the large bell at the very top of the tower so you can guess what happened.  I jumped hard, Kristie screamed (you know, that high yelp that seems to be something only girls do), and the one other person up there with us (a guy) twitched like I did.  We looked at each other and started to laugh.  A good time had by all.

After that, we toured our school’s museum

There was also plenty of old devices and photos of hearing aid technology used to help teach the children.  Here are some of the pictures I took:

DSCF1682an old text bookDSCF1712  DSCF1728

These students were not fully Deaf so the instructor (a nun in this photo) spoke into a microphone and the children could hear what was said through head sets adjusted to each individual’s needs.

After a tour of the school, Kristie and I ran into a couple of the Italian students who were learning ASL.  We mentioned that we were exploring the city more and they asked if we had been to the Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral) yet.  When we told them no, they gave us specific instructions on what to do when we arrived.

Just to let you know, my family and friends are still riding me about this but I think it was rather clever.

We were told to sign while we were there.  No talking.  Basically, with the Italian students’ blessings, we pretended to be Deaf.  Why?  Because Deaf people get in at no charge.  Yep, we lied our way into church.

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Photos were not allowed inside most of the building but the black and white marble stripes are all inside as well.  Kristie tried to give me grief about not paying after we were inside but like I told her, “You didn’t stop me.”  So, we were the two peolpe of the day who did not pay for entry but I ask you this: is it right for a church to charge an entry fee?  I did leave a donation though.  Guilty conscience, who me?

One of the things I noticed in every church and cathedral, including the vatican, is Heaven is always shown above hip level and Hell and Death are shown below.  Heaven above and Death below.  To clarify, angels, white fluffy clouds, God, and all things good are high on the walls and ceilings.  Skeletons, skulls, demons, Lucifer, Hell, and so on were always kept low to the ground, low in a mural, or literally underfoot.  Here’s an example:

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Ah, earlier I said pictures were not allowed inside but there was one room where it was okay.  The main hall in the cathedral had some photo opportunities.  Remember I said the black and marble continued inside as well?


and the pulpit (I had to take three pictures to get the whole thing, it’s that huge, but here’s one) DSCF1779

Outside is a wall that was never completed.  DSCF1224This cathedral was going to be the original Vatican but construction was stopped when it was decided Rome would be the location for the Vatican.  So, the cathedral was never finished but you can climb to the top of this wall and get a 360 degree view of Siena.  I had taken a picture of the cathedral earlier when we climbed the tower in the Campo and i took a picture of the tower from the top of the wall at the cathedral.  The tower is taller even though it is downhill from the cathedral.



DSCF1661 DSCF1762You can see the wall on the far left of the cathedral photo.  We were on the top of it.  I think if you look very closely, you can see people up there.


DSCF1219 some of the detail on one side of the cathedral. each statue is over seven feet tall.

On our final night in Italy, the school took all the students and teachers to dinner.  We had a seven course meal (which turned into eleven courses because the restaraunt staff were all having a good time so they added courses to the meal).  Food in Siena is not all pasta.  Though that is there, most dishes are vegetables.  In fact, during the meal, we only had one dish that had meat in it and it wasn’t even a quarter of a cup’s worth of meat.  Dinner lasted around three hours.

Don’t freak out about it.  Dinner in Italy is a time to socialize.  Eating is just something to do while visiting.  An average dinner in Italy can last up to four hours and they start late at night.  Restaraunts don’t even serve dinner until 8pm.  Which means Siena was still busy until the wee hours of the morning every day.  But, we’re college students.  Staying up late is in our blood.

This last meal was a marker in two people’s lives.  Mine and another student named Mason.  For me, that night represented the end of college.  Yes, I graduated from university in Italy.  I had even brought a cap and tassel from home and was going to wear it when my family picked me up at the airport.  However, the Siena school staff found out about my graduation and I got Italy’s version of a cap and tassel instead.  It’s a wreath of fresh Bay leaves held together with red ribbon.

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Mason was one of the Deaf students who’s birthday just happened to be that night.  We all knew since he had told one other person and she made sure to spread the word.  Everyone pitched in for a special present that I’ll describe in a minute.

I had been pestering the staff at school for shirts that had the school’s name on them.  The school staff had really cool shirts and thought, since they sold dictionaries, dvds, mugs, pins, and whatnot, they shold have shirts too.  Right?  Eventually, Christine (one of the staff I hung out with), got in my face and told me to stop pestering her.  Hee hee.  During the dinner, she stood up and anounced that the school wanted to thank us for participating in the program so they had shirts made for us.  When she handed me mine she said, “Are you happy now?”  I just smiled and said, “Yep!”  One of the other instructors said I had one of those “shit eating grins”.  What can I say, mission accomplished.

(I don’t have a good photo of the shirt, sorry.  But I wore it home and people thought I was a staff member at a Deaf school even though the shirt does not say staff.)

Mason, the student I mentioned above, did not get the same shirt we all got.  We had a special shirt designed for him for his birthday.  Here it is:

DSCF1874  He was so happy he cried.

The next morning, it was time to leave.  I spent the next seventeen hours traveling from Siena to Florence (Firenze), to Munich, Germany, to Chicago, to Sacramento, and (finally) to my town.  It was a very long, hectic trip.  But totally worth it.

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Siena, Italy was a blast.  I learned so much and met so many different people, this has definitely been a life altering experience.  Even though there were a few down sides that come with every long trip to a new place, there were so many good times that I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another adventure…maybe I’ll go to Africa this time…



Explorations and Roma

The second week in Siena passed by rather quickly.  Between classes and exploring the city, I kept busy.  One thing I can testify to is exploring Siena will get you in shape.  I’ve lost eighteen pounds thanks to the steep hills and stairs of the city.  Woot!  Anyways, throughout the week I would get out of class and wander.  The sun didn’t set until late in the evening so I always had plenty of time to see what was around the next corner.


I explored almost half of Siena during the week.  It was fun to find a video store with titles that I recognized such as “Despicable Me,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Dragon Ball Z.”  Myself and a few others explored the local market as well.  It was like Denios at home in California.  A huge flea market that can take a few days to travel if you visit every booth.  We found everything from clothes and tools, to food and pets.  I was looking around one of the pet shops and spent a few minutes debating bringing home a turtle.  One, they were awesome.  And, two, it would spite my brother since he loves them.  I opted out though…I’m nicer than that…

movie italian  market


Two of the booths at the market had a morbid sense of humor that I liked.  One was a butcher’s shop with a decorated boar’s head on a shelf.


The other was a fish shop with a marlin’s head.  The marlin’s “sword” wouldn’t fit in the display case so one of the workers decided to be clever and hooked up a power saw.  He cut a hole in the display case for the fish head.

sword fish

I laughed so hard at how proud he looked that he blushed.  He then gave me a slab of salmon at no charge since I enjoyed his little show so much.  The man told me to stop by his booth again next time I was there…I stopped.  His name’s Giovanni…ok, moving on…

Here are some pictures I took throughout the week.  Just some of the sights:

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That weekend, all the study abroad students, our instructors, and a Deaf interpreter hopped on a bus and went to Roma (Rome).  We visited the Colosseo (Colosseum), the Tevere (Tiber River), and Vatican City.  The entire trip took all day.  Literally, all day.  We spent over twenty hours in Rome.  We didn’t get back to Siena until 3am the next day. An exhausting but amazing trip.


First, we went to the Colosseum.  Our Deaf interpreter was also our tour guide for the day so everything was in Italian Sign (LIS).  In fact, it’s because of this that our LIS class was cut short.  We spent all our class hours that were scheduled for the following week watching and discussing what we saw in Rome with the interpreter/guide and with each other.  Our instructors were there so they saw how much we were learning and how involved we were making sure to only use LIS so they agreed that we more than fulfilled the requirements for the LIS class.  We all liked this arrangement since it meant we got out of classes earlier and could explore Siena more.  I don’t have any pictures of the interpreter because I recorded all her information lectures throughout the day.  I’ve been using them to practice LIS.

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I have learned so much about Italy that I want to share the information such as why the colloseum is missing pieces and where the original Vatican was before it was moved to Rome.  Alas, I do not have the room to pour all my new-found knowledge here.  However, such facts only make me want to travel more…ha ha, I’m never going to survive a desk job.

After one of the many short but intense rainfalls that are experienced during Italy’s summers, we took a bus across the border into Vatican city.  Did you know that?  Italy actually has two countries inside it.  The Republic of San Marino and Vatican City.  Yep, Vatican City is its own country.  When we arrived at the Vatican Museum, we had to go through a security check just like at airports.  X-rays, passport checks, the works.


Truth be told, I have so many pictures of the Vatican it’s ridiculous.  But, everything was so pretty I couldn’t help myself.  I’m only thankfull cameras have gone digital otherwise I would have needed a separate suitcase just for the film.

The details on every inch of every building, painting, and statue were astounding as well as thought provoking.  Careful lines on a statue’s lips, gracefully sweeping arches standing over fifty feet tall,  the complexity and attention to detail of every mural…I really have no words (nor will I wax poetically) for the shear power of the Vatican’s artistic embodiment.  All I can do is share a few of the photos I was allowed to take and hope you see a glimer of what I saw.

DSCF1492 A wooden, to-scale, model of Vatican City.

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DSCF1584  The most recent Pope’s temporary crypt.  The public are not allowed near but you can see a man at the bottom working…this place is huge!

DSCF1526  Me and a marble wolf…I wanted to bring him home with me…still do.  He’s sitting just like my dog sits.

DSCF1610  Something to mention here, Vatican City has its own army.  These are some of the soldiers standing guard and this was as close as I could get.

DSCF1566  The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina).  No pictures, no admittence if you had bare shoulders or knees (had to cover them up), no grouping together, and no talking (this includes sign language).  Gaurds were constantly patrolling in there but it was really cool to see Michelangelo’s murals in a crowded room and hear my heart beating (it was amazingly quiet in there).  One woman tried to get some shots and the gaurds got very…lets just say they weren’t happy.  One told her she could delete the pics while he watched, let them wipe the entire memory, or give them the camera (no she wouldn’t get it back).  Guess which choice she made hahaha.  Come on people, show some respect!

That evening the whole group went down to the Tevere (Tiber River) for a big Deaf social with the local Romans.  There was a radio staion there too.  It was cool.  Why was a radio station at a Deaf social?  Because Italy is currently going through what America has already finished.  A Deaf uprising for acknowledgement.  For example, in America, hospitals are required by law to provide interpreters for Deaf patients.  Not in Italy.  In fact, in Italy, LIS is not recognized as a foreign language like ASL is in America.  Worse still, the Italian government doesn’t even recognize LIS as a language period.

DSCF1619 Tevere.

The radio staion, Radio Kaos Italy,  is funded by the Deaf Italians in order to make Hearing individuals aware of their culture which has gone mostly ignored since WWII.  It is mostly an online station since much of the music has videos with Deaf singers.  Yes, you read right.  Look it up and see it for yourself.  It’s awesome!

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The social with the local Romans lasted around three hours at which time we were all wiped.  We eventually made it back to Siena and back to our apartments.  Everyone slept like the dead that night and no one got up before noon the next day.  Even after waking up, most people just moved to a different location and slept on.  But, it was worth it.


First week and Monteriggioni

The first week of classes in Siena was different from classes at WOU.  We spent more hours in class (three to four hours each), and yet, everything was very laid back.  What do I mean by laid back?  Side conversations were allowed as long as you participated in the class and got the information being taught; students were allowed to miss up to three classes if there were areas of Italy you wanted to go see as long as you cleared it with the instructor first;  and late payments were accepted for the program provided you could assure the school you were good for the payments.  All-in-all, laid back.

I participated in three classes: Spoken Italian, Signed Italian (LIS), and Italian Deaf Culture and History.  Spoken Italian is similar in structure to Spanish with much of the vocabulary sounding almost the same.  Deaf History was a bit difficult because much of what was taught is not history yet; it’s happening now.  Events U.S. Deaf culture went through decades ago are only just happening in Italy or have not yet occured.  Signed Italian was my favorite.  I found it easy to pick up and retain.  Although I am home now, I still practice what we were taught.

Here are a few photos to show you  what the streets, building architecture, and views were around Siena.  I was and am still jealous of the view from the classrooms and student lounge in the Siena school…Why can’t we have this in WOU?

View from school Siena  view from classroom siena

When the school day was done, a few of us in the program would wander around the city, exploring.  I have so many pictures of Italian buildings ranging from the entire structure to panels smaller than a silver dollar; but, there is no way I can fit them all here.  Sufice it to say future posts will have excellent examples of Italian architecture.

Our first weekend was occupied with a Deaf social in the school’s courtyard where we met our Italian counterparts.  While we were there to learn Italian Sign (LIS), they were learing American Sign (ASL).  Both parties spent a few hours botching each other’s languages and we had a blast laughing at each other.

Deaf Social

The next day, all the study abroad students went to a medevil festival in Monteriggioni which was a hour or so from Siena by bus.  All I can say is I had a blast!  There were perfromances, music, shops, crafts, weapons, nobles, peasants, clergy, food, wine, and so much more!  The girl in the photo above on the left is named Kristie and, bless her, she wanted to travel around the festival with me that day.  I’m afraid I wore her out.  By nightfall, she was begging that we stop and sit down for a bit.  Haha, hours spent wandering the small town’s streets and we still didn’t manage to see everything.

Currency in Italy is the Euro.  Monteriggioni is a protected town in that everyone who lives there, lives the way people did hundreds of years ago.  They even have their own currency.  When we first arrived at the festival, we had to exchange our euros for grossi.  One small, gold coin is called a grosso and is equal to one euro.  The values are one grosso, two grossi, and five grossi.  They are all coins ranging from the smaller one grosso coin up to the larger five grossi coin.  In the picture, I did not have the smaller coin but there are examples of the the other two values.   Grossi  The copper coins are worth two grossi, the gold are worth five each.  There are no paper bills in Monteriggioni…it was a nice change from the dollar system and felt refreshing.

Streets of Monteriggioni  Kristie and I explored this side street and found a pillory.  A type of medevil stock for the punishment and humiliation of those who were guilty of one crime or another.  Usually something akin to theft.  The criminal would be locked into the pillory and passerby were encouraged to throw rotten fruit, eggs, excrement, and so on at the immobilized person.  One of our school’s representatives happened to walk up behind me when I stuck my head in the pillory, locked it and walked away…har har.  She came back after a few minutes and let me out though so it’s ok.      Pillory

That evening, we bought dinner for about five grossi and it was delicious.  I had a vegetarian dish with a ginger paste that made my mouth water.  Not gonna lie, I drooled a bit.  Ah, something I found really cool there, most tourist traps that we know of serve drinks in plastic or styrofoam cups, right?  Not there.  Drinks were served in handmade, clay cups.  If you bought a drink, you kept the cup with you and could refill it with whatever you wanted later for a cheaper price.

dinner Clay cups and wooden forks were all hand made.

Funny little story, I just wanted the cup and not the wine inside ( I don’t like wine, I know, shame on me) so I purchased a cup of very cheap wine, found some potted plants in an obscure corner and (yep, you guessed it) “watered” the plants.  Kristie was with me and told one of our instructors about it who proceeded to look horrified, then disappointed and, fianlly, called for a moment of silence for the poor wine.  It was the shortest funeral in history.  We had a good time of it.

 Me and Monteriggioni



After flying for eighteen hours and going through security checks in two countries (Germany and Italy), I finally landed in Florence.  I was terrified my luggage would get lost but it arrived on schedule.  Yay!

During the short flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Florence, Italy, I met a woman named Vickie.  She was from Pretoria, Africa and was traveling to Certaldo (Cher-tahl-doh)which is one train stop before Siena.  So, we agreed to travel together since we were both alone, a little unsure, and going the same direction.  However, I have to share my first impression of Italy with you…When I first stepped outside the Florence airport, what did I notice first?  Roadsigns…everywhere!  No joke, they pointed in every direction you could imagine.                                                giveway  And some were just plain confusing.     uturn

Luckily Vickie and I took a bus.  After a quick bus ride that could have been from an amusment park (I thought it was fun), we arrived at the Ferenze Santa Maria Novella Station.  Or, Saint Maria Station in Florence.  I have one word to describe my first trip through it.  Chaos.  There were so many people trying to get tickets using automated ticket machines and rushing about to board trains.  The architecture of the building was beautiful but with everyone pressing from all angles I could not stop to admire it for long.

Ferenze Santa Maria Novella Station  Trains in Italy

When getting my ticket, I did not have the exact amount needed (8.50 Euro) and the machines don’t give change.  With that, I pulled out my credit card.  Only there was one problem no one told me about.  Italian credit cards have pin numbers just like debit cards.  American credit cards do not require pin numbers to use.  Vickie was kind enough to try her credit card for my ticket but she had the same problem.  We tried asking station employees what to do but none of them seemed to know how to help.  One man even said he had no clue.

Eventually, we found a newspaper stand outside the station that sold train tickets.  We purchased them and boogied to our train where we could finally relax a bit.  Two hours later, after Vickie let me read a newspaper she had brought with her from her home (I have to admit, it was a singular and unique experience to be in Italy reading about gazells jumping into moving vehicles to escape cheetahs) we parted ways at the station in Certaldo and I continued on to the Siena station.   Siena Train Station

Once there, I met up with representatives of the Siena School for Liberal Arts along with most of the other students in the program from the U.S.  We were given information packets and divided into small groups to be taken to our different apartments.  (I found out later everyone in the program lived in differently styled apartments all around Siena.)

That night, after everyone had arrived, the whole group went to a ristorante named Due Porte where you could get pizza with almost any kind of topping and many other famous Italian dishes.  I had the plate of Cinghiale (boar, pronounced cheen-ghah-lay) and it was deliscous!                                                                         Due Porte Menu  Jason and frie pizza  Yes, those are fries.                       Boar

Afterwards, everyone was exhausted from traveling so we all went back to our apartments and fell asleep to the sounds of an Italian midsummer night.

Here are a couple of photos I took during the day at the apartment      Apartment bedroom in SienaMe and my roomates

My bedroom on the second floor                              Me and my roomates

Pre-departure post: Just saying hi!

Hello everyone!

My name is Ann and I will be traveling to Siena, Italy in three days!  I am very excited.  In fact, I’ve been excited for months.  The reason I am going to Italy is for the Sign Language program they offer during the summer.  Once there, I will be learning signed and spoken Italian along with their Deaf culture and history.  I can’t wait!  Although, my Nana has been warning me not to fall for any “cute, dark haired, young men” while I’m there.  Her words not mine.  Don’t worry Nana, I’ll focus on the beautiful landscape and real gelato (ice cream) instead. Gelato towers

Piazza del Campo

My expectations for the culture do not really exist.  I have been to Europe in the past and have learned first-hand that there are many “subcultures” within any town or city.  I am simply looking forward to going there and meeting people from a culture different from my own.  I am a bit sad to be missing the Palio di Siena by a few days though.          The Palio di Siena is a large, annual horse race where thousands of people crowd into the Piazza del Campo (town square, shown above) and race three laps around a pre-made, dirt track.  It apparently lasts roughly 90 seconds.  Ah, but the energy generated in the crowd of spectators would have been amazing to witness first-hand.Palio di Siena

Over the past few months, while getting everything ready for the trip, I have gone through stages of excitement, nervousness, a bit of trepidation, and back around to excitement again.  This last week has been all excitement, though!  My family have said they cannot wait for me to go so I will stop bouncing off the walls in my eagerness.  Well, in less than 72 hours, my adventure begins.  Siena, here I come!  🙂